1944. Collection Maynooth Mission to Chine ” As many Pagans in China as Catholics in the Whole World. West Cork Methodists in China


DECREE The Society named the MAYNOOTH MISSION TO CHINA was recently set up in Ireland to spread the Faith among pagans, especially the Chinese. The Holy See was consulted beforehand and the Irish Bishops gave their approval. A little later the founders established a new College with an oratory named St Columban’s College at Dalgan, Shrule as the seat of the Society in this diocese. They did so with permission given under certain conditions for a year by our decree of 29/11/1917. Based on many indications, especially the very purpose of the society, the character of the founders, and the truly marvellous zeal of the whole of Ireland for this project, we may hope with the greatest confidence that very rich fruits for the good of the whole Church will spring from this society. Therefore we joyfully assent to the petition of the founders and canonically erect this society as a diocesan society in this our diocese and declare it erected; we approve its constitutions until it is recognized by the Holy See but only under the conditions stated in this decree; and we give permission with no time limit for the aforesaid College of St Columban to continue as the headquarters of the Society in this diocese provided all legalities are observed, under the same conditions as before. If any of these conditions is violated this permission immediately expires.

Bishop Edward Galvin – An Irish Missionary in China

Special Collections

By Barbara McCormack, Special Collections & Archives

Last year saw the launch of the exhibition Letters from an Irish Missionary in China – a collaborative endeavour between the Columban Fathers Central Archive and the Russell Library, Maynooth University.

Bishop Edward Galvin
Bishop Edward Galvin

The exhibition told the remarkable story of Bishop Edward Galvin, co-founder of the Maynooth Mission to China Society which later became the Missionary Society of St. Columban and included letters, photographs and articles from the archives of the Columban Fathers, supplemented by primary and secondary sources from the Russell Library. A fantastic collection of artefacts, including Galvin’s suitcase and violin, were also on display in the Library as part of the event.

Artefacts on display during the exhibition 'Letters from an Irish Missionary in China'
Violin on display during the exhibition ‘Letters from an Irish Missionary in China’

Galvin was ordained for the diocese of Cork in the year 1909 following the completion of his studies at Maynooth College. He spent the following three years as a priest on loan to the diocese of Brooklyn in New York before embarking on his journey to China. Galvin allegedly read every single book about China he could find in the Brooklyn Public Library before embarking on his travels!

After spending four years in China working as a missionary, he made a decision to return to Ireland in the hope of recruiting new volunteers from Maynooth College. It was here that he met Professor John Blowick, co-founder of the Maynooth Mission to China society. Galvin and Blowick worked tirelessly to achieve formal recognition of the Society.

Chinese fan on display during the exhibition
Chinese fan on display during the exhibition

The Bishops officially sanctioned the Society at a meeting in Maynooth during October 1916. Formal recognition from Rome followed in 1918, with the first batch of volunteers travelling to China in 1920.

Bishop Galvin's suitcase
Bishop Galvin’s suitcase

Galvin’s devotion to the missionary cause saw him remain in China through periods of political unrest, cholera outbreaks, and floods. He was one of the last foreign missionaries to leave China in the year 1952.


Irish Christian Brothers Mission to Hupei, China, 1921-1926, Memoir of Brother Dougan (1900-1987), Impressions of Shanghai 1921, Assistance to Columban Fathers Prefecture Hubei, Monsignor Galvin, Hanyang Iron Works taken over by Japanese, holidays in Kuling Mountains, Chinese Funerals, Ancestor Worship, Marriage Customs, Snakes, Malaria, Small Pox (Black Death), Warlord Wu-Pey-Fu in Hupoi, Moscow trained Political Commissars take over College home via Saigon elegant Boulevards, shock in Dublin at new Griffith Avenue

The Hurley family have a long lineage in Ballycomane, Durrus,  they had a large farm pre 1780 there when the Vickery family moved in.  There was a a marriage between John Vickery and Hanora Hurley around the same time so there may be a connection there.   In the 1870s elements of the family were active in East London with Dukelows and Swantons in Fenian activities and there is a connection with Michael Collins who lodged with one of their associates when he came to work in London.

One of the Hurleys was active in Home Rule Politics in the 1890s and was later involved with the County Council.

Sean Hurley may have been associated in Dublin with JJ O’Leary also from Cork, and be one of the pioneers of Aer Lingus

The Cork Catholics were not the only Christian Religion with designs on China:


Born 1832. John Richard Wolfe from the townland of Mallavonea, Skibbereen, West Cork. He was the second son of farmer Richard Wolfe and Susan Croston, He became a Scripture Reader for the Irish Church Mission. He then trained as a missionary with the Church Missionary Society (C.M.S) in England from 1857 and after being ordained Deacon in St. Paul’s Cathedral in May 1861 he was assigned to Foochow in South China.


1938, Doctor Sarah Wolfe, Medical Missionary of Skibbereen, West Cork and Chungsiang, Hupeh, China, on recovering from Illness contracted attending to wounded in Hankhow

Known as ‘Dr Sally, she retired to Canada for a few years before returning to Cork where she died in 1975. She’s buried in St Finbarr’s Cemetery in Cork. Jane Wright has written a biography: ‘She Left Her Heart in China: The Story of Dr Sally Wolfe Medical Missionary 1915-1951’.

1610 Map of China, by Chinese Cartographer in Java, finding the sea route to China, the Law of the Sea and the emergence of London as a Global City 1549-1689.


This map is taken from The Atlas of the Irish Famine, John Crowley, William J. Smyth and Mike Murphy, Cork University Press 2012.  The population density of the populated areas is calculated by excluding mountain, lake and bog.  The result is a density comparable to China, India and Haiti.


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